Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) was a popular preacher and Muslim legal scholar in Damascus under Mamluk rule. He is primarily remembered for writing polemics against almost everyone (Jews, Christians, Alawites, Twelver Shiites, wild Sufis, the Mongols who had recently converted to Islam, Persian speakers, Sunni Muslims who engage in popular practices such as shrine visitation and praying to saints), and the famous traveler Ibn Battuta described him as having “some kink in his brain” (Gibb trans.). He is a leading authority cited by Wahhabis and other Salafis today. So one does not expect him to be a main resource on the religion of his opponents. But in reading this week from one of his polemics (against those Muslims who participate in non-Muslim festivals), I came across his account of what happened on Palm Sunday, a version of the events which I had never heard:
The story is related of Hulegu, the Mongol conqueror of Baghdad in 1258, that he once encountered a band of Qalandar sufis. Those were the wild and woolly ones, who deliberately flouted social conventions and even the sharia in various ways to show how holy they really were. Hulegu asked the Muslim leader Nasir al-Din Tusi, who was accompanying him, who these social misfits were, and Tusi replied that they were the excess waste of society. So Hulegu ordered them all killed. I am not a Mongol general, but after a frustrating series of miscalculations I can harbor similar feelings as Tusi to the plethora of calendars in the Middle East.
Most societies have found it useful to have a common calendar, and many indeed come to regard their shared ways of marking time as so natural that they forget the existence of alternatives. Years, months, and days are simply natural phenomena with uncomplicated definitions. Until one encounters a radically different calendar. Continue reading